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Fatimah Ali | THE JOY OF DANCE

During the holiday season, we're highlighting the miraculous work done by nonprofits and charities. I envy people who, as children, know what they want to be when they grow up.

During the holiday season, we're highlighting the miraculous work done by nonprofits and charities.

I envy people who, as children, know what they want to be when they grow up.

It gives them an edge over most of us because they can start their careers earlier. As far as I'm concerned, we have it backward by waiting until our children are in their teens to require them to start thinking about their future, because it puts them way behind the eight ball.

At 4, my third child was adamant when she announced she wanted to live on the stage, and she's been working toward that goal ever since. At the time, she really couldn't carry a note in a bucket, so we knew that singing would not be her forte. Being a realist, I constantly reminded her of that and encouraged her to identify her real talents. She decided to become a dancer, and now, at 20 and as a sophomore at the University of the Arts, she's been training for her profession for more than half her life. So have her roommates, which I find equally impressive.

All the dancers I've interviewed tell me that they'd be lost without their craft, and they were dancing as soon as they could walk. Their passion for dance is enough to convince me that they love bringing joy to others through their art.

And no matter what their field, most professional artists tell me the same thing - they knew they'd end up doing something creative for a living from day one. Most of us non-dancers are unsure what our line of work will be until we're in our early 20s, but by the time a dancer becomes a young adult, it's too late to start training.

For my daughter, there were two institutions that were key to her artistic development. One was the historic Freedom Theatre, a non-profit performing-arts training center that, despite financial woes over the years, continues standing tall at 1346 N. Broad St. The other: Eleone Dance Theatre, where she performs with the junior company.

Founded by John Allen in 1966, Freedom Theatre is one of the nation's oldest African-American theaters, and boasts dozens of success stories from people who trained there. Allen's mission was to offer young people an alternative to the streets and to train them in theater and dance.

Dancers are a special breed, and they suffer great pain in order to delight us with their performances. Many have to hold two, sometime three, jobs to make ends meet if their company isn't well-funded. Companies like Eleone thrive on small grants and private funding and the pure sweat of the dancers who love their craft.

Eleone dancers rehearse every weekend for their two major annual performances. One is "Carols in Color," a theatrical dance and vocal adaptation of Langston Hughes' "Black Nativity," which retells the story of the birth of Jesus according to the Gospel of St. Matthew.

'CAROLS in Color" runs every year at Freedom Theatre, and is a classic example of why both institutions are so essential to the artistic well-being of Philadelphia. Eleone Dance Theatre is made up of two companies, the first company and Eleone Connection, which was developed by artistic director Shawn-Lamere Williams to groom younger dancers for a professional career on the stage.

Although the first company does small tours outside Philadelphia, both companies have a second annual show in Philadelphia every spring. "Carols in Color" is truly an inspiration and a treasure, which should not be missed this holiday season. Williams joins managing director Sheila Ward and musical director Stacey Harcum in presenting a brilliantly choreographed performance, which will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat.

Tickets are always tight, and the show runs at Freedom Theatre from Dec. 15-17. You can find out more about Eleone and how to support this treasure by visiting their Web site at*

Fatimah Ali is a proud stage parent and a member of Eleone's board of directors.

E-mail her at